It’s MLA resolution time! UPDATED

Because I allowed my MLA membership to go dead for awhile, I had entirely forgotten about the resolutions the MLA circulates every year.  This is interesting to me, because I actually served as an MLA delegate for a few years, and spent a few painful afternoons debating such resolutions myself. 

For whatever reason, the MLA doesn’t seem eager to publicize the resolutions or our debates over them, since they’ve stuck them behind some firewall of professional dignity on the MLA website, and nestled them someplace safe where Fox News or the New York Times can’t get to them.

I must admit, though, that years ago, when I was a delegate myself, whenever I returned from one of those long delegate meetings, I was always mocked by my friends for consenting to sit through a 4 1/2 hour debate over whether or not to censure this or that Big Name University for its disgusting, exploitive, union-busting, grad-student grinding, generally greedhead activities.  And no, we never actually censured anyone while I was there.  We just talked about it for a very long time, then decided we’d all be better off if we did nothing.

So I’m interested in the opinions of those on this blog, whether MLA members, ex-members, and not-ever-members, about how they regard such resolutions, if they think about them at all, and how much impact they’ve had on their local workplace.  And if this kind of discussion makes teeny tiny tears of boredom roll down your cheeks, then we’ll move on to a more 18th century sort of topic straightaway.


UPDATE: I feel a lot happier passing this along, from Cary Nelson of the AAUP.  It’s a report about the collapse of faculty governance and tenure in the New Orleans-area universities affected by Katrina.  Take a look, and if stuff like this bothers you, think about joining the AAUP.


3 responses to “It’s MLA resolution time! UPDATED

  1. I take up my post as a regional delegate this year for the first time. I observed the proceedings last year, and now have only participated in reading the listserv so far.

    Last year’s meeting featured some pretty interesting discussion of embattled foreign language departments, especially at small colleges where supporting, for example, an Italian faculty to teach three students a semester becomes an unsupportable luxury. All facets of the problem were covered. Not enough different languages are taught in high school, so only French, German, and Spanish students arrive at college ready to study literature. A lot of schools can’t really offer a major in, say, Russian, Chinese, or Arabic.

    What I found really impressive was that there were quite a few people willing to make the argument that we live in a world in which Chinese and Arabic are becoming increasingly important for English-speakers; why are we not demanding government and private fellowships and support for these languages? There was also the camp that said, at the expense of losing these departments and faculty positions, we must not give in to the temptation to ask for funds from organizations whose ends we don’t support.

    I think this is where the MLA delegate assembly has the potential to fall apart in discussion. There are those who believe the MLA is a part of the world, and there are those who believe the MLA is a world unto itself, a better and more pristine world. It basically seems a class distinction to me. (I understand the problems of becoming beholden to government and business, for example, but I also think we should be supporting students who want, like, jobs in the new economy.) And parties on either side of that divide are equally adamant that their values be heard.

    Is there are way to come to agreement on these issues? I honestly don’t know. I’ll let you know how it goes this year.

  2. But to answer your question, I don’t know how much the Assembly can actually do, especially when anything that could be done about these problems would have to involve university administrations, who are not exactly known for caring what proposals are made by professional associations. I am, however, hopeful that this year we’ll be addressing several issues with the MLA itself, which may then have some impact on the way that modern language departments deal with one another in university settings.

  3. Dave Mazella

    Yeah, it’s amazing how informative some of these debates are . . . you learn a ton about schools elsewhere, and how varied the conditions are from region to region, school to school.

    But I’ve been wrestling with a lot of the same issues in faculty governance, when faculty are essentially told to adjust to this or that money-driven decision. What’s the role of faculty, then? If we have this lovely tenure deal we keep hearing about, and if the curriculum really is ours to determine, why can’t we be listened to about class sizes, which has everything to do with how well we can teach that curriculum?

    I think groups like the delegate assembly are doing the work of the lord, but I also worry about our frittering our time away (confession: my frittering my time away) in activities that don’t lead to any kind of action, let alone have any impact on a given situation. That’s why I wonder whether any of these resolutions work for people at a local level, and if not, why not?

    Here’s my take: we seem to be stuck in a Mrs Jellyby mode of spectatorial concern, when local conditions of labor, work, etc. are often pretty dismal, if not for faculty, then almost certainly for grad students, lecturers, etc., but we would rather talk about much more distant problems.

    When I think about the “politics” of academia, that’s when I wonder how people reconcile those two levels of “politics”: you’re treated like a slave by your admin, but you sign a petition about X. I understand that this is a kind of alienation that many people in many walks of life experience, in or out of academics. Still, I wonder if we make a fetish out of discussion rather than deliberation or some kind of collective action, whatever those terms might mean in our situations.

    This is probably why I’m on a blog instead of continuing in the DA. But I really wish you guys the best, Carrie.